Bob Pohlig takes a minute to thumb through wallpaper patterns. Pohlig’s is one of the few locations in the Valley where wallpaper is still available.
by Dave Warner
Whether you’re an old-timer who still uses the name Lovenheim or you’re a newcomer who thinks it’s Pohlig’s, the business at 634 Main Street has been a cornerstone of the downtown business district in Little Falls for 133 years.
What you may not know, is that Bob Pohlig got to own the place by being born in New Jersey and then making a family trip to Georgia with his dad when he was a young boy. He had an Uncle that worked for Coca Cola just outside of Atlanta in a small town named Rosewell. It had one restaurant with an outhouse.
With the family all bundled up in the Ford Country Squire station wagon, Bob Pohlig said “We drove down through the Blue Ridge Mountains, and Ford had the first electric window in the back. We were in the Smokey Mountains and were sleeping in the car…all six of us, and the window wouldn’t go up.”
His father couldn’t find any place in the Carolinas that could work on it and had to wait until they got to Atlanta. While down there, Pohlig’s cousins took them and their father to a farm. “My father had never been on a farm before. He was a city kid, born and raised in Newark. It was a beef farm, and he fell in love with it.”
On the way home from George, Pohlig’s dad informed his wife that they were buying a farm. “This was 1965 and they looked all over for one. They first started looking in New Jersey, and even then, it was too expensive to buy there. Then they were looking at the Finger Lakes area,” said Pohlig.
His mother didn’t want to move up here because she had a brand new house being built in New Jersey. “She wasn’t going to move four kids to some dilapidated farmhouse. So, through Gary Luther’s dad, they found this house in Salisbury on Rt 29 at 170A…right on the corner,” he said. “They bought that 160-acre farm.”
The house was a seven-year-old one and it met the mom’s requirements, so they moved up to it in November of 1966. “We moved in a snowstorm and one of the local farmers had to plow us out so that we could even get in the driveway.”
Pohlig was nine at the time and the family knew nothing about farming. His dad had learned what he could by volunteering at Rutgers University in their animal husbandry program on weekends for almost a year. “Dad would take either me or my older sister Ginger with him every other weekend. We’d switch off and we learned about the cows. Nothing about farming though,” he said.
They got their first pure-bred black Angus bull called Duke and then a cow named Elba. “Duke was brought up in the back of a U-Haul trailer from Rutgers. Pohlig said, “I remember my dad drilling holes in the U-Haul to put an eye-hook in so he could tie him up.”
After they brought Elba up from New Jersey, they started buying other cows and went on to raise beef for the next 30 years. “But, my father could never make a living doing it. He was always an over-the-road truck driver and my mom was a nurse here at the hospital.”
According to Pohlig “We had a good life and I wanted to be a farmer. That’s what I am. I wanted to be a dairy farmer. I knew the cows and all that stuff. Technically I was the one who was in charge of the farm from an early age. My dad was back on the road, so from 12 years on, I ran the place and I loved it.”
When Pohlig first got married, he worked for Overlook Farms. “My wife and I were doing OK there, but I wanted my own farm. My father was home on our farm because of heart trouble, so he couldn’t drive anymore, and he fell down the barn steps and broke his pelvis. I couldn’t leave my father alone, so I had to quit Overlook.’
Pohlig went to the unemployment office to look for additional work and told them “I need a job. The lady said, well Lovenheim’s is hiring a sales clerk. I said to her ‘what’s Lovenheim’s?’ I had no idea about this place because we didn’t come to Little Falls.”
The woman called Mr. Lovenheim and set up an appointment, and Pohlig went over for the interview. “This was 1981, and at the time, Neisner’s was across the street, and they had this little coffee bar in there. So, we went there and talked. He asked me a few questions and said, alright, I’ll take a chance on you. I said good, when can I start? He said when can you start? And I said, right now!”
This was on a Thursday, and Mr. Lovenheim told him to start Monday morning. “I asked him what time he wanted me to start and he said 9 o’clock. And I said at 9 o’clock? I was used to getting up at 4:30 on the farm!”
Pohlig continued “I went on to work for Al for 14 years and learned the business. How to deal with customers and products, but never knowing the business end of it. That was his thing.”
After several years, Pohlig could see that Lovenheim was getting tired of the business and he and his wife wanted to do something else. “He approached me one day and he said Bob, would you be interested in buying the business? Well, my wife and I had just bought the farm from my mother and we had started working that as well. I said…geez Al, I just bought the farm. Let me talk to my wife.”
Pohlig said, “I ended up buying the business. Well, I can’t even tell you what I’ve been through since then.”
One of the things he had to learn, was how to get good help, and that lesson came immediately. “One of the first jobs I got was Chapman Moser Funeral Home and Don Moser wanted to buy his carpet from me, but he didn’t find anything he liked.”
Moser did find something he liked in Herkimer, got the information and provided it to Pohlig and asked if he could get it. Pohlig made phone calls, got an account set up with the manufacturer, and then measured everything at the funeral home to make the order.
“It came to 252 square yards of carpet. Well, he almost blew a cork. He said What the hell are you trying to do to me? The last time I installed it, it was only 200 yards,” said Pohlig. Well, the difference was, this carpet had a repeat pattern and it had to be matched.
Pohlig’s carpet installer had gone to school to be trained and was very good. “He wouldn’t do the job,” said Pohlig. “I’m new here and this is happening! But I got this other guy who said he could do it and on the first day, he said he couldn’t do it because his helper didn’t show up. So, I went up there to help and spent like six hours up there.”
Pohlig went back to the store thinking things were under control when the guy called and said he couldn’t figure out the pattern. “I had to go up there again and figure it out for him.”
And so, Pohlig was introduced to the business issues of getting good help right away. The job turned out great and the carpet is still in use at the funeral home to this day, but Pohlig said “I thought, what the hell am I doing. I have a wife and young kids at home and I’m going home all stressed.”
“That project was getting my feet wet,” he said. “I’ll never forget that big first job.”
Over the years, Pohlig has figured out how to solve those problems and flooring has become the largest part of his business. “When you have to deal with people as an owner, compared to an employee, it’s totally different.”
At one point in time, Pohlig’s had six employees including full and part-time. “We were doing almost a million dollars a year worth of business and then Lowe’s came in. It went from a million, straight down, but it’s leveled off now,” he said.
“Now we do floor covering, paint, wall covering, window treatments – from shutters to mini blinds, to cellular shades, it’s all custom stuff and I’m the installer on all the window treatments. I measure it, I estimate it, and I install it personally,” said Pohlig. “Lowes changed everything, but I still have to hire for the floor coverings.”
Pohlig did go to floor covering school but says he doesn’t have the time or expertise to do those installations.
When asked what the best part of his job is today he responded “Just dealing with the people. I know so many people. I know their kids, everything.”
Pohlig thinks he’s got another ten years of running the business in him. “I love coming to work every morning. I do. I love putting that key in the door and opening it up.”
Pohlig said that right now, they are the only place between Syracuse and Schenectady that sells wallpaper. They get referrals from all over for people to come to Lovenheims or Pohligs in Little Falls.
And for those who are confused about what to call the place? “Well, Lovenheims started in 1888. Technically, we never changed the name and still do business under it. That’s our DBA. But, I’m incorporated under Pohligs,” he said. “It’s a funny thing, but I want my own identity.”
Ignatz Lovenheim started the business and had stores from Utica to Amsterdam. Every time he opened a new store, he’d bring a relative over from Hungary to run the business. “In this store, he brought Gerome Lovenheim over to run it. Gerome, is Al Lovenheims dad,” said Pohlig.
The final interesting thing about the store? “Ignatz had a store in Utica and a young man came to him one day looking for a loan. Well, Ignatz was kinda well healed and he liked the kid, but did a little research and found that kid had failed once or twice before in some business ventures, so he wouldn’t give him the loan. Do you know who the kid was? F. W. Woolworth,” said Pohlig.
“I love telling this story… Every little town had an F. W. Woolworth in it,” said Pohlig.
He stated “We’re one of the oldest continuing retail places in the Valley. I can’t tell you how proud I am of that. This place has supplied for myself and my family for almost 38 years now.”
“My dad always knew that I wanted to be a farmer, he just knew, and when I came to work here, he said what are you doing? I told him…I just need a job. It was going to be a temporary job, but I’ve never regretted not leaving here,” stated Pohlig.